Oral herpes, commonly known as cold sores, is caused by the HSV-1 virus, a virus from the same family as HSV-2 (genital herpes) and varicella-zoster (chickenpox and shingles). Treatment may include both pills and topical medications and will vary based on the frequency and severity of your symptoms. The Mayo Clinic reports that most cold sore outbreaks clear on their own within about a week.
Antivirals like acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir are used in the treatment of herpes viruses. According to the American Social Health Association (ASHA), Valtrex (valacyclovir) taken during prodrome (the symptoms of herpes that occur before an outbreak) and again 12 hours later is effective in treating cold sores.
ASHA reports that two topical prescriptions are used in the treatment of cold sores: these are forms of valacyclovir and penciclovir (the active ingredient in famciclovir). These treatments can be used at the outset of an outbreak (prodrome) or during it.
According to ASHA, most over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for cold sores are not antivirals and are not as effective as prescriptions; these include numbing agents that may act as pain relievers. Abreva is the only OTC treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in relieving the symptoms of a cold-sore outbreak.
According to the Mayo Clinic, those who experience frequent outbreaks may be put on suppressive antiviral treatment. This means that antiviral drugs are taken regularly to decrease the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
Many confuse canker sores with cold sores. Canker sores are typically found within the mouth, while cold sores occur outside the mouth. See your physician for a diagnosis so that you can use the most effective treatment plan.